“Stop us before we mal-spend again”

2020-05-28 MaxScherzer

Max Scherzer isn’t buying the owners’ bid to renege on a March agreement to pay players their 2020 salaries pro-rated if baseball returns this summer.

Most of major league baseball’s labour issues have come down, historically and factually, to the owners trying to order the players to stop them before they overspend, misspend, or mal-spend yet again. And, again. Despise Scott Boras to your heart’s content, but he has a point when he calls upon players to decline bailing the owners out for their financial follies.

The players seem to want nothing more but nothing less than for the owners to live up to the agreement they secured in March, that the players would play a shortened 2020 with their regularly-due 2020 salaries pro-rated accordingly. The owners want the players to forget that deal and pitch and swing for less.

“If this was just about baseball, playing games would give the owners enough money to pay the players their full prorated salaries and run the baseball organization,” says the uber agent in a memo obtained by the Associated Press. But, of course, this isn’t just about playing baseball.

“The owners’ current problem is a result of the money they borrowed when they purchased their franchises, renovated their stadiums or developed land around their ballparks,” Boras continues.

This type of financing is allowed and encouraged by MLB because it has resulted in significant franchise valuations.

Owners now want players to take additional pay cuts to help them pay these loans. They want a bailout. They are not offering players a share of the stadiums, ballpark villages or the club itself, even though salary reductions would help owners pay for these valuable franchise assets. These billionaires want the money for free. No bank would do that. Banks demand loans be repaid with interest. Players should be entitled to the same respect.

Under normal circumstances such borrowings might have made a certain level of sense and seem unnecessary at certain points, as Boras and others who wheel and deal in the game understand well enough.

I’m hard pressed to recall what occupied Joe and Jane Fan’s mind more, the deficit financings by which the Ricketts family bought the Cubs and redeveloped Wrigley Field in the first place, or the Cubs reaching the Promised Land at long enough last four years ago. Uh, oh. It’s been four years since the Cubs won the World Series. Will their next Series drought last even half of 116 years?

Whatever you think of him, Boras—and he’s hardly alone—would like to remind you appropriately that it wasn’t the players who counseled the owners to borrow big buying their teams, and the players benefit comparatively small from baseball’s recent record revenues and profits.

Beware the rat, Boras advises: the Rickettses [and other owners likewise] “will be able to claim that they never had any profits because those profits went to pay off their loans. However, the end result is that the Ricketts will own improved assets that significantly increases the value of the Cubs — value that is not shared with the players.”

Before the AP made the Boras memo public, Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer tweeted, “We have previously negotiated a pay cut in the version of prorated salaries, and there’s no justification to accept a 2nd pay cut based upon the current information the union has received. I’m glad to hear other players voicing the same viewpoint and believe MLB’s economic strategy would completely change if all documentation were to become public information.”

Remember: An awful lot of public misinformation accompanied the runup to and the duration of the 1994 players’ strike. Hall of Famer Tom Glavine was there. Last week, he reminded one and all, “If it were to come down to an economic issue and that’s the reason baseball didn’t come back, you’re looking at a situation similar to the strike of ’94 and ’95 as far as fans are concerned. Even if players were 100% justified in what they were complaining about, they’re still going to look bad.”

The players association “has held firm that a March 27 agreement between the parties ensures the players their prorated share, while the league believes that language in the agreement calls for a good-faith negotiation in the event that games are played in empty stadiums,” notes ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Good faith, indeed. The players, with good contemporary and historical reason, Passan continues, are “skeptical of the data the league shared that showed significant losses across the sport and recently submitted additional document requests to the league in search of information about local television revenue, national television revenue, sponsorship revenue and projections from teams.”

With the coronavirus pandemic still in play, too, the players and the owners have health concerns to address and secure to the best extent possible if they want to play ball this summer. You may think the players are being greed heads for insisting that the owners live up to the March agreement and cut the shenanigans, but what does it say for the owners looking to use the pandemic still in play to force the players yet again to stop them before they overspend, misspend, or mal-spend—again?

There will always be the folks who blame the players no matter what,” tweets The Athletic‘s Marc Carig. “But let there be no mistake about it. The blame will also fall to the owners, who seem to have made weakening the union a priority over getting baseball back on the field.”

Part of that, of course, is an availability issue. It’s headlines when players sign bazillion-dollar contracts, but it’s crickets when the owners are asked to provide complete, undoctored financial disclosures that would indicate how much they actually as opposed to allegedly invest in actual baseball activity.

Do yourselves a couple of favours, dear readers. (All ten of you). Don’t let yourselves fall into the trap of thinking this is all a bunch of hooey over playing a kid’s game, for crying out loud! Remember whom you pay your hard-earned money to see at the ballpark. (Hint: it isn’t the owners, or even the general managers, no matter how dubious was that lopsided trade for which your team’s GM got the short end of the stick.)

Then, ask yourselves, if it’s just a kid’s game, for crying out loud, whether you, too, could really handle going to work every day knowing there’ll be about fifty thousand people watching you do your job at the office, on the loading bay, or along the conveyors—never mind whether you, too, could really hit Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, or Jack Flaherty into the bleachers or sneak a meatball past Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, or Cody Bellinger.

Now, put the dollar amounts to one side, and ask yourselves how you’d feel if you had a deal with your employer and your employer decided you need to renegotiate it down, because said employer needs a bailout after borrowing up and out the kazoo despite having the wherewithal to carry on without debt financing.

Thought so.

. . . and, will it come back smartly?

2020-05-12 SeanDoolittle

Sean Doolittle during last year’s World Series. He’s now concerned that baseball considers everyone’s health before coming back.

Forget for the moment how arduous might become the grapple between owners and players on how to pay whom if the Show returns. More significant will be how to keep more than just the players healthy, a significance that has not escaped the thoughtful eye, ear, and mind of one Washington Nationals relief pitcher.

Sean Doolittle isn’t even close to the only major league player with health on his mind. But it isn’t every player who’s unburdened himself aboard Twitter to lay out the health questions that must be answered if the Show is to come back to give a coronavirus-exhausted nation even a small degree of respite.

Bear with me,” Doolittle (who calls himself Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter) began his Monday stream, “but it feels like we’ve zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season.”

There are players and other personnel now who may be more vulnerable to the virus than others almost regardless of the health and safety protocols MLB might secure, as Ken Rosenthal observes in The Athletic. Colorado outfielder David Dahl is one. Rosenthal cites the Mayo Clinic saying your vulnerability to life-threatening infections heightens after spleen removal. Dahl’s spleen was removed five years ago.

Doolittle’s own wife, Eireann Dolan, is vulnerable thanks to being asthmatic. Two Chicago Cubs, pitcher Jon Lester and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, are cancer survivors. Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco has battled leukemia and, six years ago, undergone “non-invasive heart procedure,” Rosenthal writes. At least three players are Type 1 diabetics: pitchers Scott Alexander (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Jordan Hicks (St. Louis Cardinals), and outfielder Adam Duvall (Atlanta Braves).

One and all of them plus countless more players are only too willing to play ball this year. “Obviously, this thing is unstoppable if it gets you the right way,” said Rizzo, who’s worked with and through his charitable group aiding Chicago front-line workers, in April. “But they said I’m cured and as strong as ever and that everything functions the right way. If I was to get it, they’re not overly concerned, like they would be with older people who have had conditions before.”

Doolittle also knows it’s not that simple to work with. “Because this is a novel virus, there is still so much we don’t know—including the long-term effects,” he said aboard his Twitter stream. “On top of respiratory issues, there’s been evidence of kidney, intestinal, and liver damage, as well as neurological malfunctions, blood clots & strokes.”

Referencing several research results, the lefthanded relief pitcher cited coronavirus patients’ vulnerability to scarring in their lungs, “found even in asymptomatic patients, and because the virus often affects both lungs, can cause permanent damage in some cases. Definitely a concern for an athlete.”

It’s also a concern, and Doolittle knows it, for those who work in close enough proximity, including clubhouse personnel, press personnel, team staffers, and stadium workers. Baseball as a game may work in a kind of social distancing on the field, if you don’t count the three-man cluster of batter, catcher, and umpire at the plate, but off the field in the dugout, the clubhouse, and the ballpark is something else.

Even if the Show returns come July with no fans in the stands to begin, it isn’t going to be simple. “We know that sharing indoor spaces greatly increases the infection risk,” Doolittle continued, “and it’s rare that only 1 person gets sick. Will there be modifications made to clubhouses or other facilities to prevent a spread?” Indeed.

“Even if maybe guys don’t realize it right now, it’s our job and MLB’s job to make sure all those concerns are taken care of,” says Cardinals relief pitcher Andrew Miller, who’s a member of one of the player’s association’s executive sub-committees. “Health and safety of our players and our staff is first and foremost before we can even think about getting games off the ground and the logistics of all that.”

Baseball players might not be in close contact during a game the way football players are,” Doolittle tweeted, referencing the prospects for an NFL season this fall, “but there is a lot of shared space in a clubhouse among players, coaches and staff.”

That’s one reason why it isn’t going to be as simplistic as just keeping the owners from using baseball’s measured return to try suppressing players’ pay, considering the question to be answered as to whether the players will play for a 50-50 revenue split or for the contracted-for pro-rated 2020 salaries to which they agreed in March.

“The risk of exposure to the virus is one reason players are adamant about not accepting a further reduction in pay,” Rosenthal writes. “They agreed in March to pro-rate their salaries in a shortened season, but the league will seek additional concessions, sources said, because the games, at least initially, will be played without paying customers.”

Doolittle also pondered, not unreasonably, whether baseball could or would consider additional health care benefits for players and staffers “extend[ing] beyond their employment and into retirement to mitigate the unknown risks of putting on a baseball season during a pandemic?”

We don’t have a vaccine yet, and we don’t really have any effective anti-viral treatments. What happens if there is a second wave? Hopefully we can come up with BOTH a proactive health plan focused on prevention AND a reactive plan aimed at containment.

Doolittle and other players hope any plan to bring the Show back considers plans to acquire enough real coronavirus tests “ethically,” and the best, most feasible protocols if any player, staffer, or ballpark worker contracts the virus.

The owners and the players union have that to think about as well, even if they also have to ponder concurrent issues. For the players, they know the longevity of given careers isn’t guaranteed. For the owners, whose longevity is far more assured, there’s the risk that the national economy’s eventual recovery doesn’t happen before they’re forced to furloughs, firings, and bankruptcies.

“We want to play,” Doolittle concluded. “And we want everyone to stay safe.”

Not once in his Twitter exegesis did Doolittle talk about money. The cynic might reply that that was easy for him not to say, since his full 2020 salary would have been $6.5 million and his pro-rated nut wouldn’t exactly be pocket money. Hearing comparable health and safety concern from more players such as Doolittle and Miller would go plenty far enough.

Before this week’s return proposal, earlier ideas that meant complete player isolation put several players on edge for having to go to the serious work of play without their families. A normal baseball season provides separation enough. A season played in near-isolation with out-of-the-ordinary health and isolation issues is tricky above and beyond the safety concern.

Mike Trout and his wife, who’ve been donating quite liberally to front-liners in the region of his native southern New Jersey (including donating food), await the birth of their first son in August. He’d rather hit the deck after taking a hit off the helmet from a headhunting pitcher than be absent when Baby Trout premieres.

Clayton Kershaw, whose third child (and second son) was born three months ago, and who raised money (and matched it dollar-for-dollar out of his own deep pocket) for a Los Angeles group serving 13,000 meals a day during the pandemic, has suggested the balance between playing baseball safely and being isolated from their families didn’t exactly thrill himself or his fellow players.

Still, it’s always reassuring to know that there are those who actually play the game, who understand that, for all the dollars they earn to play it, the common good of the game isn’t always the same thing as just making money for it or dividing the spoils from it.

They also know a coronavirus-exhausted country needs what they do. Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon doesn’t want to be ill, doesn’t want people making each other ill, but wants a way for the game to return for those who love it and those who depend on it for their living.

“But bigger than that,” Blackmon said in a Monday radio interview, “this country needs baseball.” This country, and baseball itself, also needs to have it done right.

The Show’s coming back?

2020-05-11 CodyBellinger

Where have you gone, Cody Bellinger—and Mike Trout, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuna, Jr., Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and Christian Yelich? A nation turns its quarantined eyes to you . . . but . . .

Baseball, the sport that more or less invented social distancing (if you don’t count the batter, the catcher, and the home plate umpire in a close enough cluster), is about to return to America, so it is said. At least the Show will. This brings good news, bad news, and very bad news.

The good news is, the proposed July return acknowledges a nation in dire need of respite from the coronavirus’s toll in human life and human mischief and exhausted of asking, “Where have you gone, Cody Bellinger—and Mike Trout, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuna, Jr., Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and Christian Yelich? A nation turns its quarantined eyes to you.”

The bad news is, there’ll have to come bristling debate on part of the proposal: will the players get only their cuts of a half-and-half league revenue split, or will they get their normal if prorated-for-time 2020 salaries?

The very bad news is that slightly more than half season to come may leave room for some of Commissioner Rob Manfred’s mischief. The proposal approved by major league owners and submitted to the Major League Baseball Players’ Association includes that the postseason will begin with fourteen teams, courtesy of two more wild cards each in the American and National Leagues.

Manfred has only sought such a postseason expansion for almost as long as he’s been Bud Selig’s successor, of course. Bad enough that some of his thoughts about redressing play-of-game issues have run the gamut from nonsense to more nonsense. Worse is that he has no apparent thought that play-of-postseason requires even more serious redress.

Even if the proposed structure for this year is one time only, well, we’ve heard it before when baseball’s governors tried things once—and let them linger regardless of their wisdom or enhancement of the game.

The postseason is already long enough. And we’ve suffered long enough, too, the thrills and chills of teams fighting down the stretch to the very last breath to determine who’s going to finish . . . in second place.

The original wild card advent legitimised the second place finisher as a championship contender, which was bad enough, and removed the time-honoured incentive of the first place finish as the sole legitimate entree into postseason play. Manfred appears to be witless to comprehend it even as he further exposes himself a man to whom the common good of the game equals little more than making money for it.

You guessed it: here I go yet again. But a three-division league giving a round one bye to the division winner with the best record of the three, while the other two slug it out in a best-of-three division series, with that winner playing the bye team in a best-of-five League Championship Series, would a) produce far more of a genuine league champion and b) far fewer viewers turning off or avoiding television sets or radios on the road to the best-of-seven World Series.

All that said, there are a couple of things to come in the short 2020 season that Manfred, the owners, and the players alike would be wise to make permanent. Rosters are proposed to expand from 26 to 30. Sound as a nut. Make it permanent.

The designated hitter will come to the National League for the short 2020. Good. Make it even more permanent. Pitchers batted for a .128/.159/.163 slash line in 2019. That is unacceptable production no matter what you think of “tradition,” and baseball history is nothing if not full enough with traditions that deserved to be and were killed. OK, you asked for it: Thomas Boswell’s wisdom, one more time . . .

It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.

As a result, some weaker pitchers survive in the NL. But survival-of-the-unfittest isn’t good for the evolution of a league. Over time, high-quality hitters migrate to the AL, where they can have longer, richer careers by finishing as a DH. That is the main reason the AL has dominated interleague play in this century.

Depending upon the team’s up-and-down lineup possibilities, I’d far rather have what amounts to an extra leadoff hitter or cleanup hitter in that spot than a gang of spaghetti bats who might maybe hit one to the back of the yard as often as Halley’s Comet shows up. Assuming they don’t get injured swinging or running the bases and taken out of action when you need their arms the most.

I don’t want Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jack Flaherty, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Josh Hader, Noah Syndergaard (when he returns), or Jon Lester wasting time at the plate no matter how many home runs they’ve hit once in a blue moon. I want them strictly on the mound missing bats or luring outs. That’s why they’re paid what they’re paid.

Beyond that? I’m not going to complain about the possible electronic strike zone, I want the balls and strikes called right, too, which means by the rule book and not according to Angel Hernandez’s mood on a particular afternoon or evening.

But I’m going to complain that Manfred and company continue underrating and underdiscussing umpire accountability, which still seems not to exist much if at all. More’s the pity. When the Korean Baseball Organisation sends an entire ump crew to the country’s minors for re-training after a few too many complaints about a few too many individual strike zones, the American Show needs to pay attention. And the Hernandezes, Joe Wests, and C.B. Bucknors ought to be made to watch their behinds.

MLB’s return will mean empty stadiums to begin with gradual re-openings, not to mention one-time mixed-league divisions based on geography to a great extent and special considerations for keeping players, coaches, managers, umpires, and grounds crews safe. It may sound like a pain in the sliding pants, but it may also beat the living hell out of the alternative, which we’ve had restlessly enough for over a month and counting.

And, like anything else, desperate times call for desperate or at least temporarily ameliorative measures. The only thing we have to fear is that the least appealing of them might become permanent and the most appealing and truly necessary among them might become memories after the season ends.